A new report from the Institute for Religious Freedom, an independent human rights organization based in Kyiv, measures the destruction of religious sites in Ukraine. The report cites nearly 500 religious sites and places of worship sustaining damage due to the war in Ukraine. Furthermore, the estimated number of buildings that have sustained damage has nearly doubled since the IRF’s last report in July 2022.
The report highlights 494 religious buildings that have been damaged in the war. These belong to a variety of religions and include Christian churches, mosques, and synagogues, although destruction has been disproportionately aimed towards Christians. Broken down by region, the occupied Donetsk region was atop the list, with recorded damages to 120 religious sites. The Luhansk region was next, with over 70, and Kyiv saw 70 religious buildings damaged.
While the report notes that the regions with the most damaged religious sites tend to be those that have seen the most battles, the entire country has felt the destructive power of air strikes and drone attacks. IRF has also documented many occurrences of Russian forces seizing religious buildings to use as military bases and command posts.
“This tactic of the Russian military provokes an increase in the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine,” the IRF reported.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate, has sustained the most damage of any single religion in Ukraine, with 143 churches destroyed. The majority of Ukrainians are Ukrainian Orthodox, so of course this group has the largest number of religious buildings.
Still, other communities have felt the sting too, with evangelical communities losing 170 church buildings in total. Broken down by denomination, Evangelical Christian churches lost 75 churches, Evangelical Baptist Christian lost 49 prayer houses, and Seventh-day Adventist lost 24 churches. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has seen 17 churches destroyed and the Roman Catholic Church has lost 12.
At the third International Religious Freedom Summit, in Washington, IRF executive director Maksym Vasin explained that clerics and lay people are being targeted for speaking Ukrainian or displaying their Ukrainian identity. Christianity Today reported that he expressed his hopes that the data from the IRF report will encourage international organizations to pursue investigations into alleged Russian war crimes.
“In their entirety, Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine may indicate the existence of a special genocidal intent aimed at destroying the Ukrainian people, which is a distinct crime under international humanitarian law,” Vasin said.